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'Softening' Canada's gateway to the Asia Pacific? Community perspectives on Vancouver's international visage.


The branding of Canada's Gateway to the Asia Pacific usually refers to British Columbia's physical and infrastructure capacities to serve as a distribution node between Asian and North American markets, and especially of Vancouver's connecting role in profiting from emerging Asian economies. In recent years, soft gateway initiatives in education and business have been developed by the British Columbia government to take advantage of Vancouver's unique social and human capital. In this article, I argue that soft gateway initiatives are restricted by the neo-liberal parameters developed for the physical gateway. Within these parameters, soft gateway initiatives have yet to benefit from the political guidance and community buy-in required for their success. From a community perspective, soft gateway initiatives remain of limited success because they are disconnected from the daily activities of associations working already as social bridges between Asia and North America.

Keywords: Asia Pacific Gateway, Vancouver, Chinese community associations


La Porte canadienne de l'Asic-Pacifique refere generalement a l'infrastructure physique de la Colombie-Britannique en tant que maillon dans la chaine de distribution entre les marches asiatiques et nord-americains, et notamment du role de Vancouver pour prendre avantage des marches emergents d'Asic. Recemment, diverses initiatives plus douces de la porte ont ete developpees par le gouvernement de la Colombie-Britannique dans les domaines de l'education et des affaires, notamment afin de beneficier de l'unique capital humain de la ville. Dans cet article, je soutiens que le succes de ces initiatives plus douces est limite par les parametres neo-liberaux developpes pour les initiatives d'infrastructure de la porte. Ainsi, les initiatives plus douces manquent de direction politique et de support de la communaute. D'une perspective communautaire, ce succes limite est du a leur deconnection des activites quotidiennes d'associations servant reellement de ponts entre l'Asic et l'Amerique du Nord.

Mots cles: Porte d'acces vers l'Asic-Pacifique, Vancouver, associations communautaires ehinoises


Officially named Canada's Gateway to the Asia Pacific by the federal government in 2006, British Columbia, and especially Vancouver, were conceived, developed and marketed as privileged and competitive nodes in the supply and distribution chains between Asian and North American markets (Transport Canada 2007). Whereas the gateway concept usually refers to the province's physical and infrastructure capacities, the metaphor has recently taken on new meaning in Vancouver with "soft" gateway initiatives being developed by the British Columbia (BC) government (see Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada 2007; Evans 2008). Vancouver's soft gateway refers to the city's social dimension, as infrastructure developments have influenced local migration patterns and qualifications of resident populations, including the ability to speak various Asian languages. In other words, the soft gateway speaks of the competitive advantage of Vancouver's human capital in facilitating connections to Asian countries.

Soft gateway initiatives are important to the prosperity of various cities around the world, as they build on human connections to create new business opportunities. Both Hong Kong and Singapore have grown from their roles as entrepot and distribution connectors to locations thriving in high technology, education and cross-cultural training. Whereas Hong Kong's physical gateway historically encouraged its development as important manufacturing hub, Singapore's infrastructure supported the city-state's growth in finance, legal and professional services (Poon 2000; Thompson 2000). Similarly, the BC government is building on the federal government's official endorsement to conceive a soft gateway in education and business for Vancouver. As BC Minister Collin Hansen indicated while speaking in 2008 about the increasing numbers of international students linking the province to Asia: "Our BC Alumni are an important source of knowledge about Asian markets and they help us understand how we can create strong relationships and business connections in Asia" (Hansen 2008).

However, BC's soft gateway initiatives are still few and limited in scope, a stark contrast to the successes of the physical gateway. In this article, I investigate the gap between the success of the gateway's physical dimension and the limited results of soft gateway initiatives. I will argue that the success of current soft gateway initiatives is limited by the neo-liberal assumptions that frame government actions in education and business, as they limit government intervention to creating the best environment conducive for individuals and private sector actors to engender wealth. The narrative of the gateway was appropriated by the BC government with this normative framework established for the physical gateway by port authorities and the users of the transportation system ("system users"). The neo-liberal approach gets mixed reviews when applied to soft gateway initiatives, as it limits political guidance and provides a deregulated environment that is conducive to individual and private sector initiatives. From a community perspective, this neo-liberal approach to soft gateway initiatives is unsuccessful, as it is disconnected from and unsupportive of the daily activities of those associations that already work as neo-liberal human bridges between Asia and North America.

Echoing Katharyne Mitchell's (2004: 6) work on the neo-liberalization of Vancouver, my intent in this article is not to engage "abstractly in theoretical debates", but rather to offer a concrete account of recent developments in Vancouver. From a theorized perspective of neo-liberal urbanism, (1) I build on Mitchell's insights to present the tensions between a neo-liberal state design and other forms of neo-liberal practices found in Vancouver communities, notably in communities still perceived as 'unfamiliar' and 'foreign' to this Canadian city (Mitchell 2004: 30). After looking at the origins of the gateway, soft gateway initiatives in the education and business sectors will be discussed. The stories of two Chinese community associations in Vancouver will also be presented to highlight the limitations of a neo-liberal approach to soft gateway initiatives.

The Canadian Narrative of Gateway

The BC and Canadian governments have used the gateway metaphor to redefine the province's place on the international stage, particularly to profit from Vancouver's numerous connections to Asian countries. Mostly developed since the end of the 1980s, the gateway narrative emerged from port authorities and system users trying to convince governments in Canada of the urgency of investing in BC's port and transport infrastructure. Anchored in a vision for BC and Vancouver as privileged distribution nodes between Asian and North American markets, the gateway narrative is framed by specific neo-liberal assumptions on what government action should be from the perspective of the international port and transport business.

In the 2006 Asia Pacific Gateway and Corridors Initiative (APGCI), the Government of Canada developed a strategy for (1) increasing commercial relations with the Asia Pacific region, and (2) improving the efficiency and the reliability of the transportation systems in the BC Lower Mainland and Prince Rupert, including Western Canada road and rail connections and airports (Government of Canada 2009):

In responding to this need and the significant opportunities arising from rapid expansion of Asia-Pacific trade, the British Columbia provincial government is working [...] to make Canada's Pacific Gateway the most efficient and competitive multi-modal transportation system on the North American west coast (Industry Advisory Group 2006: 1).

By investing in system efficiency and safety, as well as in a governance model and policies that would improve the reputation of the West Coast as a reliable way to transport goods between Asian and North American markets, the vision was that Canada's Gateway to the Asia Pacific would thrive by meeting the increasing demand from emerging Asian markets to export to North America (Government of Canada 2009; Transport Canada 2007). (2) Such an approach finds concurrence in the province's 2006 Pacific Gateway Strategy Action Plan in which (1) investments in key infrastructure, (2) new policies and programs, and (3) airport developments are required to make of BC the "most efficient and competitive multi-modal transportation system" (Industry Advisory Group 2006: 1), building on the 2005 BC Ports Strategy (BC Ministry of Small Business and Economic Development 2005).

Framing these investments in the West Coast's port and transport infrastructure as being gateway-related comes from active lobbying throughout the 1990s by seaport authorities (consolidated under Port Metro Vancouver since 2008), airport authorities and the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council. The latter was created in 1994 around interested business communities and the system users of Western Canada, including terminal operators, trucking and railway associations and corporations (Greater Vancouver Gateway Council 2011; Rick, Senior Manager, Vancouver Airport Authority). The anticipated rise of Asian economies coupled with the insufficient capacity of established infrastructure motivated these stakeholders to advocate for the federal and provincial governments (and related BC port and transport) to frame Vancouver as an international gateway (Greater Vancouver Gateway Council 2007). More specifically, port authorities stressed how the upgrades and competition from the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, and Altamira, Mexico could threaten Vancouver's competitive edge--as the closest metropolis between Asian markets and North America from the latter's side--if the appropriate investments did not keep it competitive enough in terms of capacity and customer-friendly regulations (Senior Advisory Group 2007).

From the perspective of port authorities and system users, significant infrastructure developments were insufficient to create an efficient and competitive gateway. Important changes to the governance structure of Canadian ports were also required. With their unique status under the Canada Marine Act, port authorities are both self-sufficient (read: privately run) entities and subjected to public accountability. In contrast to most of the leading international ports, Canadian ports have limited access to resources and funding without the approval of the Canadian authorities. As the report of the Senior Advisory Group states:

The ability to finance port development is a critical element in the strategy to develop the Pacific gateway. Since we believe that the ports must take the lead in expanding our West Coast facilities, there must be appropriate ability to finance this development (Senior Advisory Group 2007: 12).

Port authorities and system users asked for a more privatized governance structure to cope with increased international competition. They advocated for devolving authority over the ports and lobbied the Canadian authorities to view the investment and infrastructure needs of the gateway as a technical issue that can be resolved through broader privatization (Rick, Senior Manager, Vancouver Airport Authority).

In this view, these groups' lobbying has produced a strong neo-liberal understanding of the gateway, by which its success of is inherently linked to the freedom of both markets and self-governed entrepreneurs' to generate wealth (Ong 2006: 10-15). Neo-liberalism is understood here as a political rationality that technicalizes public issues and debates, such as the political direction of the gateway. By denying the status of public concern to the claims of changing the governance structures of the gateway, a neo-liberal framework of action considers these issues as "non-political and non-ideological problems that need technical solutions" (Ong 2006: 3).

Emphasizing not only privatization but also deregulation, neo-liberal thought took the form of requests by port authorities and system users to minimize Canadian regulations in order to remain competitive internationally. For instance, Canadian labour regulations have been directly targeted by these stakeholders due to two main labour strikes that hit the gateway and its corridors in 1999 and again between 2004 and 2007. Advocating for a more regular use of back-to-work legislation, port authorities and system users stressed how Asian customers are choosing other options because of the unreliability of Canada's Pacific Gateway (Andre, Senior Manager, Port Metro Vancouver). Such a position has made its way into official recommendations to governments with the Senior Advisory Group suggesting that "the Government of Canada take the lead in instituting a different labour regime on Canadian docks, supported by new legislation if necessary" (Senior Advisory Group 2007: 15). Whereas labour unions have indicated how these private sector pressures are dangerous to the safeguarding of historical labour gains, and the political independence of elected officials (CUPE 2007: 3), state authorities have prioritized the gateway's international competitiveness and reputation by focusing on providing the best conditions conducive to business, including "to ensure that labour disruptions do not occur at Pacific Gateway ports and railways" (BC Ministry of Transportation 2011: 13).

These working assumptions and pressures have brought the federal authorities to develop a "cash cow" mentality toward the gateway's successes, which requires mostly deregulation and little to no political direction. As a senior port official states, "this is a fundamental contradiction of the gateway [...] because the feds view the gateway as revenue generator but the gateway is mostly [about] people cooperating as economic generators" (Rick, Senior Manager, Vancouver Airport Authority). In a context where port authorities are the face of a neo-liberal gateway, there have been no private or public actors besides port authorities taking on the role of providing direction to the gateway.

From Hard to Soft Initiatives

The BC provincial government led the way in expanding the meaning attributed to the gateway narrative and building on more specifically Vancouver's human connections to Asia. They did so most notably with four types of initiatives: targeting international education, connecting with alumni networks, fostering city twinning projects, and capitalizing on the business momentum created around the 2008 and 2010 Olympics. In all four cases, the BC government revealed a neo-liberal approach, something that is reminiscent of the framework governments used to support the physical gateway in that they only created the environment needed for private individuals and actors to take over as 'engines of wealth'. I show that the BC government has used a neo-liberal approach to frame education and business initiatives by privatizing matters of public concern, and by deregulating these sectors in light of strategic partnerships with private sector actors.

Students and Alumni Networks

Marketing Vancouver as an educational gateway is a recent phenomenon, created by the thriving business opportunities in this sector. As the BC Ministry of Economic Development noted in 2007: "International education is [...] an important part of BC's kindergarten to grade 12 public school system with approximately 6,500 international students enrolled in BC schools" (BC Ministry of Economic Development 2007: 19). In this context, international education with a focus on marketing to Asian international students becomes a potentially lucrative business for the BC government, with consistently increasing numbers of organizations catering to these students. The BC government framed international education as a gateway initiative by relying on the work and interests of educational business parties and by deregulating its education sector.

The BC approach has been to work with educational practitioners and count on their support to foster gateway-like initiatives. The University of British Columbia (UBC) is one institution that has supported this vision of Vancouver's gateway in the education sector by making it a technical priority of the institution. First, UBC aimed to strengthen its presence in Asia through various memoranda of understanding and exchange programmes. In May 2008, UBC officials joined the then BC Premier Gordon Campbell in a delegation to China to organise and sign agreements of reciprocity related to research, faculty and student exchange programmes with Chinese universities (BC Office of the Premier 2008; Leon, Senior Administrator, UBC). Second, the gateway vision has been incorporated to UBC's academic programmes and research projects, as Asia accounts for 52 academic programmes and 92 research projects, North America for 54 academic programmes and 51 research projects, which together constitute the majority of UBC's research activities (UBC 2008b). Finally, UBC's enrolment practices reflect a similar reality with approximately 20 per cent of the UBC student population coming from China and 20% from the United States in 2008. In the last four years, students from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan constituted the primary source of international students at UBC's main campus with more than 1,300 students, surpassing the number of students from the United States (UBC 2008a).

Moreover, the BC government has fostered the development of international education by deregulating this sector. In 2008, it permitted the conversion of five colleges into new universities in order to support the international demand for post-secondary education and to capitalise on this industry (BC Ministry of Advanced Education 2008). The creation of seven private post-secondary institutions was also permitted a few years earlier to cater especially to international students (BC Ministry of Advanced Education 2010). Responding to a growing demand for training in North America, the BC government has been expanding its accreditation processes to reach over 100 training schools to support the booming sector of English as Second Language (ESL) schools (BC Ministry of Advanced Education 2007; BC Ministry of Economic Development 2007). Besides the revenues gained from this expansion, the government has focused also on accreditation, promoting a favourable business environment for this type of international education, and marketing this industry abroad. Little is done to uphold specific standards for advanced education and language training, or to follow up some of the 63,000 students registered in an ESL programme to ensure the quality of the education and support received (Vancouver Sun 2008).

Similarly, the BC government's 2007 BC's Ambassadors Alumni Network initiative can be seen as a soft gateway initiative trying to set the stage for more economic opportunities. Directed towards former students from BC post-secondary educational institutions, this initiative showed the BC government's recognition of the benefits of numerous social networks expanding outwards from Vancouver to various locations in Asia. As then BC Premier Gordon Campbell wrote to the BC Mumni in Asia: "Our goal is to strengthen BC's ties to former residents, students and individuals who may be interested in British Columbia--as a place to invest, a place to build a career and raise a family, and as an exciting place to visit" (Campbell 2007). In other words, the government has been trying to profit from these social networks by utilizing former students as ambassadors in the region. However, such an initiative is based on individual self-registration and members' willingness to attend various government-led events in Asia (BC Asia Pacific Business Centre 2011). Setting the stage with little to no political guidance, it is not clear who the target audience is and what the purpose of these events is. For example, do alumni in Asia include only former BC international students, or does the network also extend to Caucasian Canadians living in Asia? Moreover, it is hard to say how connected alumni living across Asia can socialize in a way that benefits BC as a province. It seems that the government is looking only for direct revenues and potential skilled labour with no other precise political project in mind.

Business by Trade Delegations

The gateway narrative also made its way into the BC government's business strategies to open up to markets to Asia including the twinning of BC municipalities with Asian cities. Until the end of the 1990s, the twinning initiatives were geared towards Japanese cities. When the Japanese economy's growth faltered and the Chinese economy boomed, the strategy shifted. Since 2007, the BC government's new interest in pushing for more twinning projects is now geared towards Chinese cities within a gateway framework (Union of BC Municipalities 2007b). The BC Twinning Toolkit is quite explicit in utilising the model of trade delegations. This model includes people having either official status in Canada or ties to targeted Asian cities, serving as ambassadors in developing economic arrangements, cultural exchanges, and medium-term reciprocity projects such as through students exchange programmes (Union of BC Municipalities 2007a: 30). The strategies of the twinning toolkit offered to BC municipalities explicitly reinforce BC's Gateway Action Plan, as priorities include building a "global identity around Canada's Pacific Gateway", strengthening BC's "Asia Pacific trade and investment relationships", and developing a "world-class supply chain and gateway infrastructure" (Union of BC Municipalities 2007a: 7).

By pushing for more twinning projects with Asia as part of its gateway strategy, the BC government is still reproducing a neo-liberal approach in which the government role is not to provide leadership but rather to work with willing individuals and private sector actors to further their interests. As a government official of the Asia Pacific Strategic Partnerships and Programs Branch of the Ministry of Economic Development indicates, the soft gateway involves a "galaxy of players" which cannot all be considered part of a single strategy: "The gateway is quite vibrant and we must remember that nobody controls it [...] The government role is in providing the platform for the opportunities to arise [...] We're not entirely on top of the gateway" (Eric, Senior Manager, BC Ministry of Economic Development). The privileged approach is "to do everything in partnership" to develop the soft gateway. Including with twinning projects, the government role is reduced to providing the conditions for these agreements to happen without acting proactively to shape them.

Similarly, the business momentum surrounding the 2008 and 2010 Olympics set the stage for various gateway-like initiatives to deepen BC's Asia Pacific connections. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the BC government opened its BC Canada Pavilion near Tiananmen Square, under the auspices of the BC 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Secretariat. As part of the BC Ministry of Economic Development, the Secretariat was "committed to making the most of its time in the spotlight to promote British Columbia as the place to live, work, visit and invest" (BC Canada Pavilion 2008a). Composed of close to 30 trade delegations, including industrial associations such as Technology BC and Film BC, the BC pavilion was supposed to serve as a catalyst to market BC and its industries in Asia and to Asian corporations and governments (Mark, Senior Manager, BC Ministry of Economic Development).

However, most of the events have had mixed results as the BC government waited for the private sector to take the lead in using these opportunities to embody the gateway. Even if the BC Canada Pavilion is directly related to the Asia Pacific Gateway strategy (see BC Canada Pavilion 2008b), a senior BC government official indicated that overall gateway vision for business between 2008 and 2010 was limited to the interest of local companies in increasing their exports and expanding their activities in new markets, with little interest in building long lasting trans-pacific partnerships. Moreover, the public image chosen to market Vancouver by state authorities during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games barely mentioned its role as gateway to the Asia Pacific. Thinking of the missed opportunity to market the gateway as a real element of Vancouver's distinct history and nature, he wonders, with respect to the Olympics "what is the story we want to tell?", a question to which he did not find any answers from the public and private actors involved (Mark, Senior Manager, BC Ministry of Economic Development).

The use of trade delegations to incite and foster international business networks cannot be considered a neo-liberal innovation. However, the conduct of these trade delegations, in which the government role is only to work with willing partners to set the stage for economic opportunities to arise, is more reminiscent of a hands-off approach that technicalizes the purposes of such activity. In this view, no political direction or particular support is given to key sectors, and the success of government initiatives is left in the hands of private sector actors, who are perceived as knowing how best to produce wealth.

Community Perspectives

Such a lack of political guidance for soft gateway initiatives is not only telling of the narrative's neo-liberal baggage, but it also seems consistent with the lack of coordination between the state initiatives and the daily activities of community actors who also embody the neo-liberal spirit of the soft gateway. This is not to say that these community perspectives offer better alternatives to the state approach, but rather they highlight the plurality of neo-liberal experiences that are found at the community level and remain excluded from the state designs. Based on the activities of two Chinese community associations of Vancouver, I will explore how these soft gateway initiatives are disconnected from the lives of two of the BC government's key audiences: established businesspeople and young professionals of Chinese origin. As the neo-liberal approach to soft gateway initiatives is that the government offers the best conditions for self-governed entrepreneurs and the private sector actors to take over, these examples have no representative pretensions but were chosen to illustrate how some of the people most empathetic to this neo-liberal project critique the current state of soft gateway initiatives.

The Business Elite Perspective

The Hong Kong-Canada Business Association (HKCBA) functions as a business association linking Canada to China through Hong Kong. Its importance in Vancouver derives directly from an historical configuration in which Hong Kong and Vancouver have developed strong transnational business relations, notably through the fears of wealthy Hong Kongese in the years preceding the annexation to China in 1997 (Waters 2002). The HKCBA activities rely on strong historical, economic, cultural and social linkages maintained on an everyday basis between Hong Kong and Vancouver, including the 295,930 Canadians citizens living in Hong Kong in 2011 and more than 180,000 households in Hong Kong with one or more family member who is a Canadian citizen (Zhang and DeGolyer 2011: 4).

For the last five years, the HKCBA's official role in Vancouver has been to serve as a "Smart Link" to China through Hong Kong (HK-CBA 2008). Concretely, it refers members to local experts, and helps to match business partners through local luncheons, dinners, golf tournaments and international conventions. During these activities, the HKCBA can help its members develop fast and successful business connections in China: "it's not about going through all the hoops and loops but meeting the right people [...] to use Hong Kong's well established infrastructure to get into China" (Corinne, Official Representative, HKCBA Vancouver). This responds to the needs of many of the association's 450 members who are mainly professionals of Chinese origin working for a Canadian company and wanting to gain insights, networks and contacts in the Chinese markets.

The HKCBA's activities are in line with the BC government's neo-liberal vision of soft gateway initiatives as they help put Western businesspeople in contact with Chinese markets and business networks. However, the HKCBA's vision of Vancouver is clearly that the city does not fully measure up as a gateway city, at least as compared to Hong Kong. A former president of the HKCBA Vancouver sees the importance of Hong Kong as the main way for Western business to enter Chinese markets, particularly because of Hong Kong's British legal system and official languages, which include English. For him, Vancouver is a great first step to enter Chinese markets, because many business networks and social connections link Vancouver directly to Hong Kong (Joseph, Former President, HKCBA Vancouver).

This vision of Vancouver as a Smart Link to Hong Kong offers an alternative image of the HKCBA's gateway activities, anchored in transnational ethnic Chinese business networks. BC's soft gateway initiatives are less relevant to the HKCBA's membership, as it does not focus on bringing business to BC. Besides its own model of business delegations with the annual Hong Kong Forum, during which ethnic Chinese businesspeople from across the world meet, the HKCBA has a volunteering program for university-level ethnic Chinese business students. Supported in the transition from in-class knowledge to practical professional experiences, volunteers have the opportunity to socialize with prominent business people from across the Pacific Ocean and be integrated to these business networks (HKCBA 2011). NS such, the HKCBA has developed independent, more targeted and more efficient mechanisms to foster business connections than BC's soft gateway initiatives.

The Young Professional Perspective

The Association of Chinese Canadian Professionals (ACCP) in Vancouver does address the concerns of the second key audience of the BC government: young professionals of Asian descent living and working in Vancouver. Although its membership is not limited to Chinese professionals, the vast majority of members are indeed of Chinese origin. The ACCP was created in 1999 and is a cross-professional association and network of about 400 people from all sectors who come together to give back to their local communities. With the current increases in newcomers from Mainland China, the ACCP also serves as a site where Chinese populations of various backgrounds and citizenships can bond and develop a social and business network locally (ACCP 2011).

The ACCP executive is quite critical of soft gateway initiatives as there is little to no public or private organizations that have successfully tapped into Vancouver's human capital. A former ACCP president says that the city has succeeded in marketing itself as a great place to live and study but not as a gateway place to do business: "Canada is a great place to live, to get educated, but it breathes mediocrity" (Mr. Chan, Former President, ACCP). In other words, he suggests that Vancouver is not Canada's gateway to Asia Pacific because it is not competitive enough in business and does not bring the cultural mix that a gateway should have, especially when it comes to bridging North American and Asian business practices and mentalities: "It seems that opportunities are more attractive in Asia than in Canada" (Mr. Chan, Former President, ACCP).

The ACCP, having difficulty in considering its work as part of the gateway, focuses on local issues arising from the implementation of this platform. In particular, it is addressing two emerging social realities of Vancouver. On the one hand, a lot of young Asian professionals are deciding to return or move to Asia as the business climate there is more conducive to making money and there is less systemic racism in business. On the other hand, it gives particular attention to second and third generation Asian Canadians who feel lost in trying to reconcile their multiple identities as young professionals (Mr. Chan, Former President, ACCP).

As such, the ACCP's main critique focuses on the Western cultural biases of the neo-liberal approach to this gateway, as gateway-related social issues are not addressed. By having the government providing the best economic conditions for fostering business relations and social networking, many impediments to the success of soft initiatives remain unacknowledged, including racialized discrimination, language barriers and other social issues linked to rapid immigration and demographic changes. Without government-led social programs to address these issues, the ACCP has developed its own initiatives such as career fairs, mentoring sessions from successful Chinese businesspeople and seminars on glass-ceiling effect for racialized minorities in Vancouver. These activities help students and young professionals of Chinese origin fight these problems, and implicitly criticize the cultural biases of living and working at the gateway (ACCP 2011).

Concluding Remarks

Whereas the vision of Canada's gateway to Asia Pacific is deeply anchored in the port authorities and system users' lobbying efforts, the BC government's soft gateway initiatives in education and business reflect some of the neo-liberal assumptions used to build the physical gateway. In this view, the role of government has been limited to providing the environment from which individuals and private sector actors can develop opportunities and become 'engines of wealth'. The activities of two Chinese community associations have illustrated that this approach finds limited success when it comes to soft gateway initiatives, as it does not acknowledge important societal dynamics related to the state of neo-liberal designs in Vancouver, including the transnational nature of ethnic business networks and local issues such as systemic racism in Vancouver's business communities.

This lack of political leadership echoes a lack of community buy-in in the gateway platform. A 2009 public perceptions report conducted on behalf of the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council reveals that the majority of informed citizens of Vancouver's Lower Mainland did not know why and for what purpose the gateway strategy was created. Moreover, the multiplication of gateway initiatives has gradually confused increasing numbers of local residents (National Public Relations 2009: 3-5). Such findings not only speak of the importance of better branding and communication with community actors on the various hard and soft gateway initiatives, but they also speak of the need for acknowledging more systematically the plurality of neo-liberal community experiences to which the gateway may refer.

The Vancouver International Financial Sector Steering Committee's (VIFSSC) recommendations have tried to address the current limitations of the soft gateway but remain silent of the local asymmetries between neo-liberal practices and audiences. The 2010 report commissioned by the BC Minister of Finance highlights the importance for the province to adopt a less fragmented approach to economic development by identifying key sectors and working with community partners and institutions like universities to support them step-by-step. Even if the VIFSSC was mandated to recommend reforms to BC's financial policy framework, its report reveals a strong awareness that a more holistic approach to economic development is required, including an integrated branding strategy, for which the steering committee identifies the Asia Pacific Gateway as a strong possibility (VIFSSC 2010: 27-28). In this view, this committee recommends better integration of all these gateway-like initiatives in a more hands-on, government-led vision that goes beyond providing an environment conducive to business. For instance, such integrated vision could extend to immigration, integration and all social matters arising from the conduct of these initiatives.

However, 'softening' Canada's gateway to the Asia Pacific may require more than a re-framing of soft gateway initiatives away from the parameters inherited from the physical gateway. As the main precept of soft initiatives is to capitalize on unique social and human capital assets linking Vancouver to Asia, it becomes crucial to recognize the power relations and asymmetries already existing between some community perspectives considered 'better' (read: unfamiliar) neo-liberal practices than others, usually only based on cultural and racialized parameters (Mitchell 2004). This current sense of disconnect and clash between different cultural practices of neo-liberalism must be addressed for Vancouver to fulfil its international pretensions of gateway between East and West.


The author would like to thank the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada as well as the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia for their support. Special thanks are also due to Paul Evans, Brian Job, Richard Stubbs and Erin Williams for their insights, as well as to two anonymous reviewers of CJUR for their comments and suggestions. The views expressed should not be attributed to anyone else than the author.


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Andre [fictitious name]. Senior Manager, Port Metro Vancouver, Vancouver, 10 June 2008.

Mr. Chan. Former President, Association of Chinese Canadian Professionals, Vancouver, 11 June 2008.

Corinne [fictitious name]. Official Representative, HKCBA Vancouver, Vancouver, 15 May 2008.

Eric [fictitious name]. Senior Manager, BC Ministry of Economic Development, Vancouver, 21 May 2008.

Leon [fictitious name]. Senior Administrator, UBC, Vancouver, 8 June 2008.

Joseph [fictitious name]. Former President, HKCBA Vancouver, Vancouver, 11 June 2008.

Mark [fictitious name]. Senior Manager, BC Ministry of Economic Development, Vancouver, 6 June 2008.

Rick [fictitious name]. Senior Manager, Vancouver Airport Authority, Vancouver, 28 May 2008.

Jean Michel Montsion

Department of International Studies

Glendon College

York University


(1) I would like to thank one anonymous reviewer of C JUR to point out the important body of literature in neo-liberal urbanism that helps framing theoretically this paper (see Hackworth 2007; Short 2004).

(2) This vision of the gateway reflects the Conservative Party of Canada's approach focusing mostly on infrastructure and physical developments for port and transport efficiency. In contrast, the one of the Liberal Party of Canada emphasizes also policies and strategic partnerships with various Asian countries, which offers a more comprehensive and hands-on approach (see Evans 2010).
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Author:Montsion, Jean Michel
Publication:Canadian Journal of Urban Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 22, 2011
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